It’s the morning after. Or a few days after. Or a week or two later.
You got drunk – at a party, event, get-together, take your pick – and you did something highly inappropriate. Thanks to the inhibition-reducing effects of alcohol, you might have acted aggressively against a peer, said something you regret, or did something that makes you blush, even now…hours, days, or weeks later.
Whatever it was, you wish you could just crawl into a deep, deep hole and stay there until everyone has forgotten about the incident. You’re so mortified you can barely face your peers in school, let alone the person staring back at you in the mirror.
What are you supposed to do now?
Shame and Guilt
First, let’s talk about shame and guilt.
What’s the difference?
Shame is how you feel when you do something that’s frowned upon by others and everyone finds out.
Guilt is how you feel when you do something that violates your own moral code. You can feel both shame and guilt together, but you can also feel just shame, or just guilt, exclusively.
When your guilt or shame fits the facts of the situation – as it does in this case, when you did something inappropriate that violates your own moral code and/or community norms – sitting with your emotion is helpful. Don’t try to immediately look to get over or move past the shame or guilt by engaging in distracting behaviors or suppressing your emotions. In this case, the feeling – as uncomfortable as it is – will help you, as it shows you there is something you need to change.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) states that when you have any justified emotion, you need to Problem-Solve (as opposed to engaging in Opposite Action, when your emotion does not fit the facts of the situation.) So, when you feel justified guilt or shame, you need to make repairs for any damage you caused while you were drunk. In DBT, making repairs refers to taking responsibility for any actions or statements you made that hurt others. This includes apologizing to people you hurt, paying for damaged property, and expressing regret for what you did to the people involved.
Of course, this is not easy. It will be very uncomfortable to face the people who witnessed your embarrassing behavior. Talking about what happened may also be incredibly difficult. And though it may seem like doing these things will bring up more shame, they’re necessary steps that will eventually help you become at peace with yourself, your actions, and the emotions that followed.
While some well-meaning people and friends will simply brush you off, or laugh off the incident, and tell you to forget about what happened, this strategy will not help you in the long run: you need to hold yourself accountable, follow the advice of DBT therapists, and make those repairs.
Commit to Change
In a way, there’s a silver lining to feeling ashamed: it helps prevent similar behavior in the future. Learn from your mistakes isn’t just a cute adage. It’s an essential skill. In life, feelings of discomfort help us learn not to repeat those behaviors that caused pain in the first place. In your case, that means you should take a deep, hard look at yourself and think about what happens when you drink or get high.
Which brings us to the second part of Problem-Solving: committing to not repeating your mistakes.
In this case: Don’t get drunk again.
If this is not the first time you did something embarrassing while under the influence, you may very well have an alcohol use disorder. In addition to getting you drunk and high, alcohol and drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and benzodiazepines, can lower your inhibitions. That means, while under the influence of these substances, you might do and say things that you would never do if your normal filters were fully functional, and not impaired by an external substance like alcohol or drugs.
Professional Substance Use Treatment for Teens
If you often find yourself in compromising situations or engaging in risky behavior while drunk or high, you should consider seeking professional help. Look up drug rehab centers for teens or dual diagnosis treatment centers for adolescents near you. These mental health and substance abuse treatment centers will help you resolve your problems with alcohol and drugs. They will also help you figure out strategies to prevent relapse. For example, you’ll learn how to identify the most common triggers or environmental factors that cause you to drink or take drugs. You’ll also learn how to avoid these situations in the first place.
Finally, drug rehab centers for teens can help you get to the root cause of your substance use issues. Oftentimes, teens use alcohol or drugs to escape from internal pain caused by mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or trauma. Through exploring the emotional sources of your addiction and learning coping skills to deal with stress or uncomfortable feelings, you can achieve a full recovery.
Time to Move Forward
Though you can never really turn back the clock and erase what happened when you were drunk, this mortifying incident should serve as a learning experience. Sometimes extreme events are the only things that get us to seek help. If your actions that night finally made you realize you need to seek teen addiction treatment, then you can look back at the experience as a necessary, albeit uncomfortable, catalyst for change.